I was reading an article the other day about children who are getting hypertension or high blood pressure. It seems that there is an epidemic going on in Canada. This particular article talked about the amount of sodium in most Canadian’s diets, especially children’s. Their focus was on all the packaged foods that have sodium that you would never think would. The result was shown in the example of a 14 year old boy who was diagnosed with hypertension. Even though he was of normal weight and very active he had unusually high blood pressure. It was determined that he ate a large amount of processed foods which dramatically increased his sodium to unhealthy levels. Seems he is just one example of children in Canada suffering from this syndrome.
Let us take an example of just how quickly sodium adds up:
For breakfast you have 1 ½ cups of Special K …..
Or better yet you have 1 ½ cups of Nutty Nuggets ….
960 mg of sodium!
During the day you are hungry and have 12 Snack Sticks .…
320 mg of sodium
Or better yet 14 Ritz Toasted Chips, Dairyland Cheddar ….
290 mg of sodium (now who can only eat 14 chips???)
After dinner you have 2 Double Stuf Oreos ….
160 mg of sodium
Or maybe 2 Nilla Cakesters ….
135 mg of sodium
Given these foods, on the best day of eating you would have consumed 745 mg sodium.
The worst case scenario you would have consumed 1,440 mg of sodium!!!
And that is only with eating a cereal for breakfast, snack during the day and cookie for dessert. Imagine just how many total milligrams of sodium someone could consume if they ate more processed foods during the day and added table salt into their home cooked meals.
Although sodium can play a large role, about 50% of people with high blood pressure are salt-sensitive, it is not the only issue. Here are some other things to look at:
Obesity and hypertension go hand in hand. It can result in a range of metabolic syndromes including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin issues.
Stress and how we respond to it will often affect hypertension. If we don’t manage our stress healthfully it will impact our bodies in negative ways.
Dietary practices will have a big impact on it. Certain foods will benefit blood pressure levels while others will increase it.
Age is considered to play a role and yet I struggle with buying into this too much. I feel we have a choice in how we age whether it is gracefully and healthily or poorly and sedentarily.
Genetics can have an impact. If we have parents that have hypertension then the chances of getting it are higher. In this situation, it is even more important to be mindful of all the above categories.
Let us begin by having an understanding of exactly what hypertension or high blood pressure means and what are the health concerns that arise from it. We will start with a description from the Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition:
“When the heart pumps blood through the arteries, the blood presses against the walls of the blood vessels. In people who suffer from hypertension, this pressure is abnormally high. If blood pressure is elevated, the heart must work harder to pump adequate amount of blood to all tissues of the body.”
This can result in damage to the heart, blood vessels, brain and kidneys. Hypertension is considered the ‘silent killer’ because the aforementioned damage has started even before one realizes they have high blood pressure. It is the major risk factor for heart failure, kidney disease and stroke.
So how does it cause all this?
In the blood vessels, hypertension:
- Causes a thickening of the tunica media, which is the middle coat of the artery or vein which gives it its’ elasticity
- Increases the development of atherosclerosis; an accumulation of fat-containing material on the walls of the arteries
- Coronary artery disease; a narrowing of the coronary arteries, and a systemic or generalized vascular resistance
In the heart, hypertension:
- Forces the ventricles or the lower chamber of the heart to work harder to eject the blood
- This in turn can cause muscle damage and fibrosis or a buildup of collagen in between the muscle fibers
- This can eventually cause the left ventricle to enlarge, weaken and dilate
In the brain:
- The arteries are less protected than other arteries in the body and can eventually cause them to rupture causing a stroke
In the kidneys, hypertension:
- Can damage the arterioles or microscopic sized arteries that deliver blood to capillaries
- This can result in a decrease of blood to the kidneys causing them to secrete more renin which will elevate the blood pressure even more
As you can see, regularly increased blood pressure is not a good thing!
So what is normal? It used to be that 120/80 was considered ideal but that was changed in 2003 by the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure as studies were indicating even readings at this level increased the potential risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Now normal is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. Note: For each 20/10 increase above normal blood pressure, the risks for CVD doubles.
Now that we have an understanding on blood pressure and it affects on the body, let us take a look at things we can do to positively affect it.
Most diets are high in sodium due to excess dietary salt. Dietary salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium needs differ depending on the amount of exercise and sweating. Generally speaking, a minimum of 1,500 mg per day and up to 2,300 mg per day is ideal. One teaspoon of commercial salt contains about 2,000 mgs. When purchasing processed or packaged food sodium can add up quickly, as you previously saw, so really read your labels! Remember sodium can be disguised as salt, soda, Na, MSG, meat tenderizers and so forth. Note: An ideal form of salt to use is Celtic Salt as it is a non processed food that is gathered off the shores of places like Southern France. It is high in many minerals and actually enhances the taste of foods rather than masking them like table salt. Due to its great taste, you only need to use a little bit.
“The best treatment for high blood pressure… loss of even a few pounds helps reduce blood pressure in overweight hypertensive people.” As you can imagine, this is an article in and of itself. This will be addressed in a future blog.
Finding ways to manage your stressors is essential. Meditation, yoga, and biofeedback can be very effective in lowering high blood pressure. All of these can assist in decreasing the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal glands. For more details on stress and its affects, read THIS ARTICLE.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide your body with good sources of fiber and the necessary minerals, potassium, calcium and especially magnesium. Adequate amounts of these minerals are associated with lower risk of hypertension. Eating a diet rich in Omega 3’s will keep your cell membranes healthy and flexible. For detailed information on these, read THIS ARTICLE. If you are a grain eater, use the following whole grains – rye, oats, amaranth and especially buckwheat. Proteins should include primarily fish. Avoid eating much, if any, red meat. Avoid all highly refined foods as they not only deplete your body of essential nutrients but also tend to put a lot of excess stress on the adrenal glands.
Consume enough water daily. It is the most important and abundant inorganic compound in all living systems. It is a conduit for almost all the body’s chemical reactions. Water can be depleted by many things, including other items we drink. It is therefore suggested to avoid excess caffeine and alcohol. Avoid soft drinks all together.
Regular moderate exercise will assist in burning fat, decrease weight, increase blood flow, and aid in stress reduction. Excess can have negative effects, especially if you have had a sedentary lifestyle for some time. It is more beneficial to gradually increase your levels, give yourself rest days, and focus on moderation and enjoyment. It is determined that moderate exercise, even brisk walking, several times a week for 30-45 minutes can lower systolic blood pressure by about 10 mHg.
It is common to not get enough rest and sleep. Try to reevaluate your daily routine to see if you are getting adequate amounts. Sleep should be closer to 8 hours per night rather than the 6 or less many people get. This will assist your entire system in recovering and rejuvenating.
This is just a beginning list of ideas and suggestions. There are many excellent books available to offer you more thoughts and details. Begin by working on the aforementioned suggestions that you feel will have a positive impact on your blood pressure levels.
Last but not least, make sure to take your blood pressure regularly as it is the only way you will know if you are having positive effects.
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 Systolic = measured when the heart muscle contracts and ejects blood into the aorta
 Diastolic = measured while the heart muscle is relaxing between beats
 Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, Seventh Edition
 Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th Edition
 Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th Edition
 Of course regular checking with your doctor is a given.